Clarett allowed to keep scholarship

Updated: September 11, 2003, 4:38 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Maurice Clarett was suspended for the season Wednesday for violating NCAA rules, tarnishing Ohio State's national title and clouding the future of one of the nation's most talented running backs.

Clarett, mother tied to dealership at heart of theft report
Other details of the Maurice Clarett saga surfaced Wednesday.

In Columbus, ESPN.com's Tom Farrey reports that the Car Store, the dealership which allowed Clarett to borrow the car that was eventually broken into -- and is at the center of the fraudulent theft report he filed -- sold a 2000 Navigator for $13,800 to Clarett's mother before Clarett reported the break-in of the car he was driving.

The Car Store often deals in cash transactions, and the purchase of the Navigator is significant because it may allow Clarett to avoid an NCAA violation. The NCAA allows athletes to enter into arrangements for cars if these same arrangements are available to students who are not athletes.

The Car Store told ESPN.com that it typically will allow established customers to take out cars on test drives for extended periods. Because Clarett's mother purchased the Navigator, the Car Store considered Clarett as someone the dealership had an existing relationship with, said Keith Whann, attorney for Car Store owner Jacob Chapa.

"With virtually any car dealer, you are allowed to take a test drive," Whann said. "In this case, the policy (Chapa) has with prior customers or friends is to allow them to take the car overnight. Maurice Clarett was not treated differently than any other customer."

Whann said Chapa is "a fan, as most people in Columbus are," but that he is not an Ohio State booster, has not contributed money to the school and he does not have season tickets to Buckeye games.

Chapa first met Clarett when he and his mother, Michelle, showed up at the Car Store to buy her Lincoln Navigator, Whann said.

According to the police report Clarett filed, he claimed a loss of $8,188 worth of cash, stereo equipment, a TV monitor, clothing and compact discs.

Whann said Chapa understands how Clarett miscalculated the value of the contents that were stolen from the 2001 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which was customized to include modern electronic gear such as an embedded television. Those items belonged to the dealership; Clarett had CDs and cash that belonged to him that was stolen from the vehicle.

"It's not surprising that Clarett would not know the value (of the customized items he did not own)," Whann said.

Whann said Chapa has received threats and his business has been hurt by the scandal.

"We're getting more reporters than customers," Chapa said. "If each one bought a car, I would be in great shape."

Clarett was punished because the school determined he accepted thousands of dollars in improper benefits and then lied to NCAA and school investigators.

"This is a sad day," Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger said as he announced the penalty.

Even though the infractions date to 2002, the school is not in jeopardy of having its national title stripped.

Clarett will remain on scholarship this school year. His attorney, Scott Schiff, wouldn't speculate if Clarett's Ohio State career was over.

"He's considering his options right now," Schiff said.

Clarett had been suspended from the team while the NCAA and Ohio State investigated his finances. Ohio State has been working for more than two weeks on a response to "several pages" of allegations sent by the NCAA to the university.

Geiger said Clarett was guilty of 14 violations of the ethical-conduct bylaw and two violations of receiving preferential treatment or benefits because he is an athlete.

Geiger said before each season Ohio State players are presented a copy of NCAA Bylaw 10 which deals with ethical conduct and not lying to investigators.

"You play by the rules, you live by the rules," Geiger said.

Geiger said Clarett would be required to make a donation to a charity of his choice equal to the amount he received in benefits, which Geiger termed as "thousands of dollars," if he wants to be reinstated.

Ohio State can appeal for Clarett's reinstatement after the year suspension is complete.

"We hope the NCAA considers a suspension for this season to be sufficient," Geiger said. "More importantly, we hope that Maurice will remain in school to pursue his degree, and that conditions will warrant our application for reinstatement to play Buckeye football next season."

If Clarett transfers, the NCAA requires the new school to declare him ineligible, then seek his reinstatement through the NCAA. He would have to sit out a year in addition to any suspension or ineligibility handed down by the NCAA in order to play at another Division I-A school. Clarett could play immediately in a smaller division after he is reinstated.

Schiff said he was troubled that Clarett is not permitted to appeal the NCAA penalties. The association's rules only permit a school to appeal.

"The most important thing I think is that the inherent problem with the NCAA procedures is the lack of due process and the lack of any procedure for the student-athlete himself to appeal the NCAA findings," Schiff said.

Clarett, a sophomore, could also try to go to the NFL and challenge the rule that requires players to wait three years after high school to enter the draft or leave for the Canadian Football League.

Geiger said Clarett accepted some benefits during his freshman year -- before Ohio State won the national title in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3. Geiger said the NCAA has determined that Ohio State was not at fault in any of Clarett's violations. He said the bowl victory was not in jeopardy.

"If the university was unaware or uninvolved, then the university is not culpable," Geiger said.

Because the NCAA is not in charge of the bowl system, it does not have the power to strip a school of a national title.

Clarett's final carry for the Buckeyes last season ranks among the most memorable in school history. He scored on a 5-yard run in the second overtime to give Ohio State a 31-24 victory over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl and its first national championship in 34 years.

Clarett set Ohio State freshman records last season with 1,237 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Clarett's suspension was "very distressing because I happen to think that ... the sky's the limit as to what he can be."

Tressel said he had spent more time with Clarett than any other Ohio State player the last two years.

"The question would be: Could I have spent more time with him, could I have done a better job in some areas," Tressel said.

"Those are things I think about often ... perhaps I didn't do as well as I could have done."

Clarett, his mother and Schiff met with Geiger earlier Wednesday before the suspension was announced. After the meeting, Michelle Clarett was asked if her son was considering transferring.

"Nothing has been decided if we go, if we stay, if we dance or not," Michelle Clarett said.

Clarett's mother did not return a phone message seeking comment on the suspension.

"It's very difficult on them," said former NFL star Jim Brown, who spoke to the Claretts after the meeting. "They're torn between so many emotions. Really, just trying to follow the process, do the right thing and weigh their options."

Tressel said he would not stand in the way and would recommend that the university grant Clarett a release from his scholarship if Clarett asked for one.

Clarett was charged Tuesday with misdemeanor falsification for lying about items stolen from his car. If convicted, Clarett would face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, but probably would get probation.

Unrelated to the suspension, Clarett also is being investigated by an Ohio State panel looking into allegations of academic improprieties involving athletes.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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